A healthy community depends upon meaningful gatherings and shared experiences. This has been true at least since the Ancient Greeks developed medicine to cure the physical self and theatre to heal the soul. The Greeks knew that the personal and shared traumas of war, famine, sexual violence and plague required a type of processing that exceeded individual abilities. In the case of state conflict, thousands of citizen-soldiers would gather in amphitheaters to watch plays about war and its aftermath created by playwrights who were themselves veterans of war. This refracted version of trauma its power to linger and harm indefinitely, opening a space for healing. In their own ways, all cultures have made private experiences less strange, wounding and persistent by making them public—by performing them in a way that allowed makers, audiences and performers to metabolize their worst feelings and, by a kind of miracle, make from them their greatest creations.
We have much to learn from the past as we face the current convergence of crises triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. Not the least of these lessons is that we need to prepare now to repair the bonds of community and mutual identification that have been strained by illness, quarantine, and economic upheaval. These injuries can’t simply be patched over, and they won’t disappear when the virus is contained. Some harms endure. Moreover, deeper causes—such as inequality, incarceration, the marginalization of the elderly, the hardening of national borders—need to be addressed, too, so that we can discern not only what a virus has wrought upon us, but what we have allowed to happen to one another.
BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival is, at one level, a celebration of creativity, escapism, fantasy and pleasure. We are, equally though, also a very serious enterprise designed to help our community face up to and work through some of the most challenging aspects of human life. Whether it is disease, injustice, abuse, the failure of leadership, or the distractions of greed and resentment, we believe that the greatest insults to our senses of self and security can only be adequately addressed when we engage them directly and together.
People pray, sing, wed, celebrate and mourn in groups. In fact, gathering together is in some sense the precondition for facing up to the best and worst of our lives. All festivals share this basic virtue of bringing together individuals who might otherwise not normally interact. A theatre festival, in particular one like BorderLight that includes all types of performance from all types of origins, and is addressed democratically to all types of audiences, can perform this healing function in a way that is uniquely powerful.
While predicting the future is an imperfect enterprise, we believe it to be a likely and safe assumption that BorderLight’s intended dates for a 2021 festival, July 21-25, will align with two important conditions. First, that the Covid-19 crisis will be substantially more understood and contained. Second, that citizens will be both ready for, and in need of, precisely the type of shared and meaningful experiences that we can provide.
It is crucial that BorderLight be ready and able to deliver the type of experience. We already proved we could produce the same in our debut year of 2019. Now, more than ever, we need such events. However, we will not be able to create the caliber of experience that will be so important if we cannot plan and prepare now. We need the resources to reserve performance spaces, contract with artists, design a Fringe Festival that is even more exciting and resonant than our last, recruit needed contractors and seasonal workers, and so forth. To do this work, we need community investment. The epidemic has already cost us real and potential fundraising opportunities. It will take leaders with foresight to support us and signal to others that our work is crucial when the world is most in need of repair.
There will be a “morning after” our current crisis. BorderLight needs your help to make that morning a special, memorable and transformative experience for us all.